CAMPAIGNS: NTCAC calls upon the community to help clear the air

PR Team: North Texas Clean Air Coalition (Dallas) and Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia (Austin, TX) Campaign: Commute Solutions Challenge Time Frame: Summer 2003 Budget: $80,000 (not including media buys)

PR Team: North Texas Clean Air Coalition (Dallas) and Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia (Austin, TX) Campaign: Commute Solutions Challenge Time Frame: Summer 2003 Budget: $80,000 (not including media buys)

Air quality in the Dallas/Fort Worth area has gotten bad enough to raise the possibility of tougher EPA regulations. The North Texas Clean Air Coalition (NTCAC) tries to educate motorists about the situation, and what they can do to stem the problem. "There is a misperception that this is an industrial problem," says project director Shannon Morris. "The reality is that more than half of harmful ozone emissions come from vehicles." The NTCAC was formed 10 years ago by the Dallas and Fort Worth chambers of commerce and transit authorities, as well as the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the North Texas Commission, an economic development agency. Each year during Commute Solutions Month (August), the NTCAC reaches out to a widening circle of businesses to encourage employer-supported van pooling and other alternatives to one car, one driver. This year, the NTCAC expanded the program to target individuals as well. If commuters find the right train route, for example, they likely will ride it again, organizers reasoned. Strategy "With a limited budget, we knew we couldn't do a shotgun approach and try to reach everyone," says Ted Burton, media relations director at Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia, which the NTCAC hired to help. EnviroMedia staff pored over a public- opinion survey that the NTCAC conducted in October 2002. The study revealed that while men younger than 35 were least informed and least concerned about air quality, they were also most likely to change their habits if they believed it could make a difference, Burton says. The campaign put a macho-cool spin on mass transportation to combat the perception that taking the bus is just something to do if you don't own a car. Tactics The Commute Solutions Challenge became the campaign's centerpiece. Through www.tryparkingit.com, commuters could register for prizes by logging miles they saved by walking, biking, carpooling, or taking mass transit. Sponsors donated prizes such as free airline trips and tickets to sporting events and concerts. Also, a series of radio spots ran as both paid ads and PSAs. One featured a young man telling a buddy about his cool new ride - a bus. In another, a guy reassuringly talks to his car as if it's a girlfriend he's leaving at home. The NTCAC, its member groups, and corporate partners also conducted press conferences during and leading up to Commute Solutions Month. EnviroMedia invited reporters to an air-quality testing station in July to learn the science behind ozone alerts, for example. To kick off Commute Solutions Month, dignitaries from Dallas and Fort Worth participated in a traveling press conference along the commuter rail line that connects the two cities. Fort Worth Star-Telegram transportation writer Gordon Dickson rode with Fort Worth Mayor Michael Moncrief (D), and while he felt the event was newsworthy, he said it might have been more compelling if more officials had ridden the train instead of driving to appearances at stations. Each week in August, a different commuting alternative was highlighted, and various participants hosted related events. The NTCAC also expanded its annual direct-mail initiative to companies with as few as 250 employees, and it developed an employers' tool kit for the website. Results The website drew more than 32,000 hits, and the 530 people who registered reported saving nearly 55,000 miles. "We do not believe that the actual number of miles saved is that small," Morris says. "Not everyone goes online to register." A number of traffic DJs mentioned the program during radio broadcasts, Morris says. Burton calculated the ad value of spots that ran as free PSAs at $24,200. Fifty-eight companies responded to mailings and direct contact, representing a jump of about 15% over last year. Future Morris hopes to conduct another survey next year to measure attitude changes. She expects EnviroMedia to remain involved, and is mulling a hybrid-electric vehicle focus in 2004.

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